Nedko Solakov

At first blush, Nedko Solakov seemed to be letting down his guard. What was he thinking, exhibiting “Leftovers: A Selection of My Unsold Pieces from the Private Galleries I Work With”—the very things no one wants from him? Numerous drawings, objects, folders, paintings, videos, and DVDs were displayed on the kind of cheap wooden shelves one might find in a gallery storeroom, more set aside than exhibited. Further, the small room devoted to the “Leftovers” was right in the middle of the permanent display of the museum’s comprehensive collection of works by Alberto Giacometti—a highlight of the Kunsthaus. With scattered doodles and comments on the walls, Solakov had even intervened directly in the Giacometti rooms.

Was Solakov’s hope that, after being dignified by being seen in a non-commercial context alongside masterworks from across the centuries, his surplus might yet be sold? Today’s booming, overheated art market may be laughing all the way to the bank—but this laughter may stick in its throat once it becomes clear how sold-out art fairs can alter our perception of art, removing the last shreds of its aura to reveal its status as a mere commodity. In this case, the book accompanying the exhibition, a sort of inventory and price list, was necessary just to identify some of the works, which had simply been unpacked and stacked up. And there were some works noted in the book that were not actually on display.

Solakov’s dealers—Arndt & Partner, Berlin; Deitch Projects, New York; Dvir Gallery, Tel Aviv; Tanya Rumpff, Haarlem; Módulo-Centro Difusor de Arte, Lisbon; Galerie Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Vallois, Paris; Erna Hécey, Brussels—took their role in this game seriously, each producing a brief text reflecting on why these particular works did not sell. Hécey, for example, presents a “list of possible reasons for not selling an artwork.” Among them: “The collector is still hesitating . . . The gallery owner waits for the works to become more expensive . . . The artist has a difficult personality . . . The artist has too many galleries.”

In the catalogue, Solakov quotes an old Bulgarian saying: “Out of bad can come good.” As usual, he takes this practical optimism and plays a number of variations on it. This artist from Bulgaria, one of the poorest countries in Eastern Europe, has managed to become one of the art market’s money-makers, but he also reveals himself to be, at times, a failure in the whirl of the marketplace. It should be pointed out, though, that Solakov’s “Leftovers” are not just inferior goods. The installation New Noah’s Ark, 1991–92, is among Solakov’s most significant works, as are the “rediscovered” paintings of El Bulgaro, 2000: “There is too much hard-to-ignore evidence that El Greco himself was hiding behind El Bulgaro’s personality. The production of all these elongated, slimy, unhealthy figures all day long, day after day, commission after commission, apparently placed an enormous burden on El Greco’s psyche.” In Solakov’s multilayered metanarratives on art, myth and irony cannot be separated. While museums are increasingly taking on the activities of galleries, Solakov brings the art trade directly into the museum to remind the institution of its original function: to be a place for interpretations in a larger historical and contemporary context, without being naive about its influence on the market.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.